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"At that time, only two guys were on TV, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird" — why Shaquille O'Neal chose to emphasize humor as his brand

Everyone thinks it came naturally, but it turns out Shaq put a lot of thought and work into his persona.
TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal, Indiana State Sycamores forward Larry Bird and Michigan State Spartans guard Magic Johnson

Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird

Ever since an NBA fan can remember, Shaquille O’Neal has been hilarious. In fact, outside his basketball legacy, “Diesel” will be remembered as arguably the funniest guy in the NBA. But while it could be true that Shaq was born with a remarkable sense of humor, the man himself took us back to how marketing played a significant role in it.

The history of Shaq’s humor

As we all know, O’Neal has ultimately become one of the most successful retired NBA players. A lot of it could be credited to smart investments, but undeniably, Shaq’s brand image as a comedy symbol also contributed to his success.

Recounting why of all marketing strategies, he opted to use humor as his unique selling proposition; O’Neal said it all started with “a marketing project in school.” 

According to the former Los Angeles Lakers big man, his professor asked them to “present me something that can be sold in the future,” so he came up with all sorts of Shaq merch, from shoes to tops. However, the professor bluntly told O’Neal, in a nutshell, that “big guys don’t sell,” which the future NBA star quickly understood.

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He kind of embarrassed me in class and he was like, ‘I see you put a lot of thought into this Mr. O’Neal, but big guys don’t sell.’ And he was correct. Because at that time, only two guys were on TV, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan was coming. No big guy on a commercial. No big guy on anything,” O’Neal said on “The Be Better Off Show.”

Instead of being disheartened, the young Shaq went back to the drawing board and began figuring out, “how can I be different?” Until one day, the then-famous Bud Light beer dog model called “Spuds MacKenzie” led him to the light at the end of the tunnel. Hence, Shaq, the comedian, was born.

I kept seeing this dumb dog, Spuds MacKenzie. His commercials were funny…So I said, ‘Okay, if I ever got the opportunity to show myself to the world, [there] has to be a lot of humor in my commercials,” O'Neal recalled.

It was a good decision

As it turned out, pivoting from highlighting Shaq the big fella, to Shaq the funny guy was the right decision. Since then, O’Neal embraced that character, and to this day, he’s entertaining fans with his hilarious skits and takes on NBA on TNT, and most notably, on his NBA-focused comedy show, “Shaqtin’ A Fool.”

Having heard all of this, it makes it kind of hard to imagine a world without the humor of Shaq.

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